Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Every other summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals across the United States. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora.
The next project is scheduled for the summer of 2020 and will focus on deforestation in Eastern Africa.
There are no more classes, the final assignments are due, and we finally have a rough cut *woot woot*.
We had our last breakfast together, took the last group photo, and went on our way.
While getting back into a normal routine (study, cook/eat, work out, sleep, repeat) I have not been able to shake the feeling of ‘now what’?
It seems like an injustice to have this experience, but then return to Omaha and not change anything. Now that I am back to my ‘normal’ what is next? How can and should I use my experience at the border to better change the world I live in?
I have struggled with figuring out a realistic answer to this question. I do not see myself dropping everything and dedicating my life to the issue of migration but, in contrast, I feel like I cannot just do nothing.
First, on a personal level, I need to learn about the complexity of problems in our society. I need to reject my own ignorance and, though it may be hard, actually learn about the issues. You cannot do anything worthwhile without knowledge.
Second, I need to continue to recognize the marginalized in every community. There are people who are marginalized in Omaha and I have turned a blind eye. I need to recognize injustice instead of ignoring it.
This is a realistic first step, where I can use what I learned in Arizona to better myself and my community.
However, this still does not feel like enough. What actual things can I do to better work for the crucified people?
The honest answer is I do not know. I do think that this will help guide me in the future. That after this experience I will not settle for doing things for the purpose of doing something, I will need to find a greater purpose in what I do. However, other than that only time will tell.
So as of now, I’m out, Backpack Journalism 2016 it has been great.
When talking about the border it is easy to turn it into a conceptual political issue. However, there are so many people living this reality and they are the ones who make this issue so compelling. They are the ones who humanize this issue. These are some of the people we met…
Jim and Sue own the Chilton ranch in Arizona. This is a 50,000-acre ranch. Jim, in 2003, won the title ‘Rancher of the Year’ and has testified in front of Congress six times. Sue, spent five years on the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. Jim and Sue are a ranching power couple.
I went with the first group, with Jim, to set up the interview at the ranch. We quickly learned Jim was a jokester. On our way into the ranch, with a while to drive still, Jim pulls over, saunters up to our van and says he is glad we made it through all the congestion. We were in rural Arizona and had not seen a single car on the drive. He then immediately, walks back to his truck and we finish the drive to his home. Jokes like this continued throughout the day.
Jim and Sue’s house was beautiful. Honestly, like no other house I have ever seen. The master bedroom was circular room made of 16 windows, which Jim designed himself. In the foyer of their house sat a stuffed cougar. Jim told us the day he got the cougar he placed it in the door to scare Sue when she came home.
Jim referred to Sue as Super Sue, and it is apparent why. Sue was buzzing around whether she was preparing and cleaning up the potluck at the church, leading the choir, getting ready for the interview, or just making us feel at home. It was clear Sue rarely stopped moving. Sue couldn’t be more than a couple inches over five foot and wore bright blue cowboy boots. This couple was just so genuine a few times throughout the day I had to remind myself I was not meeting my own grandparent’s friends in rural Iowa.
I talked to a man for only a couple minutes after church in Arivaca, Arizona (a small town), but I managed to find out he was originally from Sioux City. Sioux City is a small town in Iowa my grandma was from. This was a nice reminder how small the world really is.
Father Neeley is a Jesuit who led us around Nogales for a couple of days. He has a commanding bass voice, a full white beard, mustache, and a cowboy hat. He learned Spanish in his 30s over a bottle of alcohol and before working at the Kino Border Initiative he was a professor of marketing. He taught a class about wine marketing because of his connections in the wine industry and was the faculty advisor for one of the school’s fraternities. I do not think I have seen such pure excitement as when Father Neeley got to see the drone fly in rural Arizona.
We were given a tour of Nogales, Mexico by a lawyer and his historian friend these two would contradict and passive aggressively argue about the real history of Nogales. One would tell one story and then the other would explicitly tell us all that the other was wrong, then telling us his version of the historical event. This went on until we were late for our dinner reservation and had to say goodbye.
John was our tour guide on the desert walk. He had long white hair, shorts, and sandals. He was a Quaker and the most peaceful person I have ever met. He quickly climbed a rock wall, told stories of casual conversations with border control, and slyly dropped that he had to be back in Minnesota for a court date due to a protest he had participated in. The most telling encounter I had with John is when he told us that shoes were optional on our desert hike. The desert hike was filled with cactus, thorny bushes, and we walked on gravel, yet shoes were only recommended.
We went to Saguaro National Park where we met Cecil and Carol. Cecil was an Arizona biologist who studied the horticulture and amphibians in the park. Carol used to be an editor at National Geographic, yet sat back and let Cecil have his moment as he informed us about all the wildlife in the park, which included instructions on getting high by licking the backs of frogs.
Father Neeley and Ivan a Jesuit in training (which is not the official title) came over to dinner one night. With them was a man who casually mentioned, half way through dinner, his career as a UN ambassador. He then retired to work in the Vatican before actually retiring to his new home in Spain. He worked in Pakistan, Bosnia during the war, Geneva, Spain, and the list goes on. He worked in the Vatican and told us about his nice photo with the pope. He shared stories of his time in Europe and Africa over pizza sitting in a plastic Adirondack chair.
We ended up going through border checkpoints almost every day. Every experience at these checkpoints was a little bit different. However, the best experience I had at one of these checkpoints was just quintessentially Midwest. Our vans had Creighton University printed on the side. On seeing this a border control agent from another lane jogs up to our car and tells us he is also from Nebraska. We small talk about why we are in Arizona and our mutual knowledge of the somewhat small town he was from.
Ultimately, the people we met on the border were why this trip was such a good experience. They helped add complexity and a human face to this highly politicized issue.
“He also said that [another of the idols is] National Security, and the essence of idolatry is that when idols are worshipped, you know, when wealth or National Security are worshipped, then victims are produced in our world.” Jon Sobrino S.J. Regis University commencement speech, 1990
Dear all Powerful and feared God of National Security,
First, we would like to thank you for your unwavering support in the constant fight to keep terrorists out of our country. Lord, we thank you for your mercy in the battle to also keep out refugees and those fleeing persecution as they might be a threat to our great society. Our actions are for you and in your name, Lord of National Security here our prayer.
We pray that due process and a fair trial continue to be taken away from anyone who is a threat to you, Lord of National Security. As those who illegally cross the border are an obvious danger to your wellbeing. We pray they continue to be criminalized and sent to jail. Lord of National Security hear our prayer
We thank you for your grace in the work with the American judicial system, taking away judges’ discretion for the common good and streamlining the process to better protect your glory, Lord of National Security hear our prayer.
Lord of National Security, we know the sacrifices made for your honor, over five hundred migrant deaths in the desert alone this year. These sacrifices were made for you and for your ideal safer society. Lord or National Security hear our prayer.
We thank you for your ability to overpower the American constitution and Bill of Rights as these documents inhibit your full glory, Lord or National Security hear our prayer.
Lastly, Lord, please cleanse this society, at any cost of anyone who could be a threat to you, oh powerful God of National Security. It is in you we trust and would sacrifice anything. Please guide our actions in the perilous world that surrounds us. Thanks be to you.
When did the worship of national security take precedence over the compassion of Christ? “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40
So many of my memories on this trip had to do with music. Whether that was jamming in the car, being woken up at 4 a.m. to music being blared in the living room, or dance parties while making and cleaning up meals. Music was a part of our experience on the border. The following is a list of songs that when I hear them I cannot help but remember CU backpack 2016…
First, this is the real way the song is spelled, in all caps and with an explanation point. This song was known as Carol’s song as it was one of her favorites. We listened to this song at least once a day as a way to get the “party” started.
I first heard this song as a wake-up call for our 4 a.m. b-roll shoot. The popularity of this song amongst the group sprouts from the coyote yips in the middle. Don Edwards is singing until suddenly there is a shrill euuuu-ouup sound like a coyote. We found this entertaining to imitate when both the song was playing and not.
This is another tune that we would jam to. There was even a dance move made specifically for this song where one would place their arms at ninety-degree angles in front of them flapping their arms like they were dribbling basketballs in anticipation for the beat to drop.
Fuego (really anything by Natalia) Natalia Serna
Natalia Serna is a singer/ songwriter who we interviewed. She sings songs about the migration/ deportation process and sings at the commodore. We would listen to her music which is amazing and you can check out her work at lamuna.net
I am pretty sure two days in a row we went through a border control checkpoint playing Ave Maria by Beyonce. This was a relaxing yet beat filled tune to center us for the long days we spent in the sun.
I know this is somewhat heretical with the youths of today but I do not really follow Hamilton the musical. However, on this trip I got a little taste of the musical actually a big taste of the musical. Hamilton was always a go to when there was general apathy surrounding the music choice.
I think this might have been more of a personal song to add, but this song kept playing in my head during our final reflection because it was closing time on CU Backpack 2016. This song was also playing in our car as we rolled up to public safety to drop off the vans. Closing Time, in general, is always the best way to end any playlist, the perfect conclusion.
Ignorance might not be bliss, but it is easier. Ignorance is choosing not to know information usually at someone else’s expense.
Before going to Nogales I was ignorant and I have really no excuse. I live in an age where information is more accessible than ever before. Yet, I did not know there was a wall splitting the city of Nogales, I did not know the number of migrants coming into the U.S. had decreased, I did not know America’s immigration policies, and I did not know the history of the American/Mexican border. I am not saying it should have been expected for me to know everything before going to Nogales. Instead, the issue is I had every opportunity to know more than I did, long before this trip was even an opportunity, but I chose not to.
I have been grappling with why I chose this ignorance because it was a conscious decision. The reality is I chose to ignore migration in the U.S. because it was easier.
To understand migration in America, I first had to acknowledge my own ignorance and then presume that this ignorance is nationwide. If more Americans understood the border I would like to think there would be much larger outcry, regardless of political orientation. If most Americans knew how much money was being wasted on checkpoints that do nothing or a wall that does nothing, but were solely established for political show and used to create fear, there would have to be public protest.
Instead, we go on with our lives in ignorance, because it is easier.
Jon Sobrino S.J. in his speech at the 1990 Regis graduation says “being human means, I would say first of all, to live in the real world in which we live”. This gets at this idea of coming down from all of our ivory towers and understanding reality and living reality. His entire speech is truly a rejection of ignorant bliss. A rejection of ignoring suffering.
It is hard to acknowledge my own ignorance and the harm it has caused. However, it is right to acknowledge my reality and live with humanity not above it. This whole experience has allowed me to better understand the connection between knowledge and a reality from the bottom up. The first step to changing anything is having a fuller understanding, a true rejection of ignorance.
As a group we went on a desert hike. We walked along a path taken by migrants into the United States.
The experience I had on this hike is more explanatory in description than any analysis I could give in this blog.
We crawled under barbed wire. We went up and down a rock wall. It was a grueling approximately two mile hike and we had plenty of water and rests along the way. We came across water stations where groups had left gallons of water and canned beans for migrants to consume.
On the walk we saw articles of clothing left behind.
We finally made it to a shrine for migrants where there were crosses, rosaries, and other keepsakes. There were also jugs of water hanging from trees so that the ravens could not get them. Here we sat down with the leader of this hike and reflected. During this reflection we were given a prayer for the migrant. This prayer was a call to action. It explained how we all could work for peace. Though we were praying to God to accomplish these tasks, there was an underlying tone that each of these things can be accomplished by humanity and more specifically God working through us. This is why this prayer made sense to me more than really anything else we had talked about up to this point, I felt like this could be accomplished and I could help.
The prayer follows:
Creator, full of love and mercy, whose own Son became a refugee and had no place to cal his own; look with mercy and compassion on our brothers and sisters who today are fleeing from poverty, homelessness, and hunger.
Protect them as they suffer mistreatments and humiliations on their journeys, are labeled as dangerous, and marginalized for being foreigners. Make them be respected and valued for their dignity. Touch with Your Goodness and Active Concern the many who see them pass.
Care for their families until they return to their homes, not with broken hearts but rather with hopes fulfilled. Inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts; and guide all the people of the world towards that day when all will rejoice in you Reign of justice and love. Let it Be.
Part of our reflection at this migrant shrine was discussing a young woman who had died during the journey to the U.S. not far from that spot. John (our hike leader) ended our time at the shrine, after telling this young woman’s story, by saying may she rest in peace and may we be restless for peace.
This experience was a call to action, that I may be restless for peace.
When touring the Mexican side of Nogales, a train passed us sporting the Union Pacific logo and the slogan “Building America”.
This was a train filled with assembled car parts headed for America. This got me thinking who is building America?
I am not building anything, but I sure do consume.
While in “both” Nogales I have had to face the reality that I play a role in the problems surrounding migration. I am not free from fault. I partake in American successes on the backbones of those across the world. I am not living in an isolated nation. I can no longer turn my back on the connectedness of the world I am a part of. Someone else is building an America I get to reap the benefits of.
Isabel Garcia, a public defender in Tuscon, Arizona, truly hit the nail on the head in her interview. That America is not ready for the reality of a world without migrants. A world where we have to pay higher prices for labor. A world that would inconvenience us. She talked about being grateful for migrant labor. I am not yet sure what this gratitude looks like?
However, I do understand what it is not…
Gratitude is not deporting these migrants.
Gratitude is not treating them less than human.
Gratitude is not purposefully separating migrants from their family during the deportation process.
Gratitude is not streamlining the immigration criminal justice process.
Gratitude is definitely not building a wall.
I was always raised to be grateful for my immigrant background. To appreciate those who came over on a boat and accomplished the American Dream, so that my life is easier. It is about time we start appreciating both the migrant’s plight of the past and the migrant’s struggle today, as it is immigrants who build America.
Growing up I was always taught the moral wrongness of putting people into categories. That a person’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, economic class, or political orientation should not determine how you treat them.
Yet those who have committed a crime were never included on that list.
No one really discusses the rights of “criminals” and this is coming from someone who was raised by two lawyers. America as a whole has not yet come to a conclusion about the rights of those charged with a criminal offense. Yes, you have a right to an attorney, you are free from cruel and unusual punishment, you are free from double jeopardy, and so on, but then what? What rights do you have in jail and then which ones are afforded to you when you leave? Even the interpretation of the criminal justice amendments in the Bill of Rights are still debated in American politics, especially when charging those who are not U.S. citizens.
This ability to be so vague about the rights of those convicted of a crime allows for those found guilty to easily be put into categories. They are categorized as a criminal, a term with the connotation that they are dangerous and useless in society. Being a criminal is truly a scarlet letter today in America.
This fear of the “criminal” is used by the American government surrounding migration into the United States through the Mexican/ American border. First, by creating the image that these migrants are criminals. When migrants are caught they are charged with a criminal offense (while many other countries handle this offense administratively). Migrants are put in jails or detainment centers. When they are deported both their hands and feet are shackled. The entire process creates the image that people who have crossed the border illegally are criminals and in association bad for both American society and wherever they are deported to.
This visual categorization of migrants as criminals allows for them to be dehumanized because criminals are perceived as less than in society. However, like all categorizations, this is not a truthful portrayal. Many migrants are forced to look for a better life due to extreme violence and poverty. Like Father Peter Neeley said in his interview no one wants to migrate unless they have to.
Migrants are not criminals and they should not be treated like a danger to society. Just like any category, some fit into the stereotype prescribed to them, but most do not. There is no reason to brand these people. They are humans, with families, and unique backgrounds. This is why it is so important to put a face to an issue. We have no right to put anyone in a category as a way to simplify an issue, that is not justice.
I have felt incredibly close to the terrain while driving from Nebraska to Nogales:
I feel like I have seen Colorado and the mountains, that I could describe in great detail my surroundings when driving through Nebraska, and I honestly felt closer to nature when crossing into New Mexico than I have in a long time.
However, I only left the van to buy food or use the restroom. I was not in nature and really could only guess what my surroundings felt, smelt, and sounded like.
In fact, I am appreciating this refreshing terrain from a vehicle that is harming the exact environment I am in awe of. Continuing on this I am taking highways that sever this environment for effiencency.
In almost direct contrast to this I am simultaneously having historical pity for anyone who “went west” without a car, air conditioning, and roads.
This internal conflict is not necessarily a problem that needs a cohesive solution. Instead, it is simply something that I need to be aware of. That driving in a car is not a substitute for actually being somewhere. I saw a place for a split second as we sped by and that is it.
However, even after this realization that I have not been one with nature I do feel some sort of Jack Kerouac like communion with the road. This is what has been so special about this two day pilgrimage. When in a car there is no escape from the distance traveled. That two days ago we were really far away from where we are now both physically and in mental preparedness.
In a van\car, there is no escape from the reality that you are moving. I have found myself thinking instead of moving southwest, that we are moving forward. Forward to our new destination where the anticipation ends and the real work begins.
This truly plays into why I have felt so connected with the terrain. The terrain is a visual reminder that we are moving past the flat Nebraska corn fields, through the first glimpses of mountains in Colorado, to the dry environment of the southern United States. This adds to this concept of forward movement and pilgrimage. That we are giving ourself time during our travels to accept the distance driven and the experiences we will have within the next couple weeks. This road trip has been a meditation of sorts just being and watching in the car as we travel to Nogales and start our work.